Let's Plays Over the Years
6 minutes to read in internet

Let's Plays Over the Years

playing games online is cool
I found myself thinking about how much the Let's Play format has changed over the years, and came to the conclusion that there are four main "eras" of the genre.

- The Forum Era -
This era originated on Something Awful in circa 2006 credited to user "slowbeef", often using screenshots and text descriptions of the gameplay rather than recorded video or commentary. This format was very rudimentary and often, once a game was completed and discussions over, the thread would be archived and forgotten about, left to rot. The Let's Play Archive was founded in 2007 to archive these threads properly in an easily accessible manner, and later expanded to archiving the later YouTube Let's Plays.

- The Classic YouTube Era -
slowbeef is also credited with spawning this circa 2007; traits common in this era include low quality video/audio, YouTube's 10 minute time limit, and little-to-no editing. Many of the games played in this era were classic Nintendo and PC games, things easily emulated and captured with free recording software.

Notable YouTubers include:
  • retsupurae [a duo consisting of Something Awful users slowbeef and Diabetus, with other users being featured occasionally]
  • Gaming Garbage [a duo consisting of the late Something Awful founder Lowtax and the disgraced Shmorky]
  • Chuggaaconroy, NintendoCapriSun, ProtonJon [the three forming TheRunawayGuys channel, but all having solo YT careers]
  • lucahjin
  • HCBailly
  • and many more.

- The Modern YouTube Era -
Many would say Pewdiepie was the origin of this new era of Let's Plays on YouTube, introducing a webcam to see the player behind the gameplay (not always featured, but definitely the standard), as well as a deeper focus on PC games, especially titles from independent developers. Other YouTubers include Markiplier, jacksepticeye, CinnamonToastKen VenturianTale, ZackScottGames, Tobuscus' gameplay channel TobyGames, and several others.

An interesting difference with this era and those most popular in it is the focus on indie games, especially horror games. Like Pewdiepie playing Amnesia, or Markiplier playing SCP: Containment Breach, and of course most famously, Five Nights at Freddy's. Rarely do you see console titles, AAA games, or games from companies like Nintendo or Sega. This creates opportunities such as Markiplier's ongoing "3 Scary Games" series, with over 100 episodes and counting. In this series he features indie horror games to bring awareness to the titles and their developers, using his platform to support small creators. Other creators collaborate in this format, some of the most popular of which being Grand Theft Auto V and Gmod gameplay videos.

- The Livestreaming Era -
This is a nebulous era, with the rise of Twitch (and YouTube introducing livestreaming features to compete with them), many have taken to playing games live on air. Rather than record with live commentary to be uploaded later, this era is exclusive to playing live with audience (chat) interaction and discussion. Many people who got their start in the modern YT era, and even some from the classic era, have migrated to streaming. One benefit of streaming over prerecording is the ability to generate more content; one can stream gameplay for a sum of hours, upload the VOD, and then edit it down into highlight videos (and in the current YouTube landscape, Shorts).
Streaming also allows for multiple sources of income, being able to take Twitch subscriptions, donations, or even on-stream sponsorships, on top of YouTube's standard ad revenue (and sponsors there, too). Although, due to the nature of online content creation, this is always a gamble- making money is never guaranteed and many creators have a lot of luck (or networking) on their side when they finally make their break (of course, this applies to the prior two eras, but the prospect of making content creation a job is much more realistic today than it was back then).

I personally grew up with the "classic era", seeing a lot of the modern era too. I was kinda right in-between them, I watched a lot of NCS, RunawayGuys, ScykohPlays if anyone remembers him (though he was actually a few years later), and then Pewdiepie got big. I remember spending a lot of time watching Happy Wheels videos from Pewdiepie, TobyGames, a lot of Markiplier's SCP Containment Breach series and obviously his FNAF playthroughs (I actually rewatched his SCP series a few years back, it was fun).
I really respect Mark for showing off indie devs' work on his channel, he's kind of been doing it since he started but he's put more focus on it. I also think it's really interesting that you rarely see him play anything triple-A, same with the other big channels of those years. It makes me wonder if he's ever played Resident Evil or Silent Hill or something, like old PSX or PS2 horror games.

Anyway, sorry for the sort of "stream of consciousness" blogpost. And the lack of site updates in the past couple months. Life hasn't been treating me very well lately. Maybe I'll write a blogpost about it someday. I just felt like writing about something that made me feel a little happy :D.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays too, almost forgot to say that.